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We're used to measuring things with a lot of different types of units. In the US, we measure small things in inches, medium things in feet, and large things in miles. We weigh things in pounds. Time is measured in seconds, minutes, and hours. Some things are measured in combinations, like miles per hour. And, there's all sorts of units that don't play into our daily lives very often for things like forces, power, torque, etc. In physics, we deal with all of these units on a routine basis, and more.

Most of these units were chosen for historical reasons, many of which have since been forgotten. Feet were originally the length of a man's foot. Seconds were probably chosen by the average heart rate of a man. A minute is the time it takes for the sun or the moon to rise or set. Miles were originally 1000 paces of a Roman centurion. So, this is all very interesting for walking around Europe or watching sunsets, but it really doesn't have much to do with the fundamental laws of physics.

In physics we have a lot of different types of units. We have joules for energy,
watts for power, coulombs for charge, newtons for force, etc. However, there are
only three fundamental units in classical physics: length, mass, and time. Normally,
we measure these with meters, kilograms, and seconds (MKS) or centimeters, grams,
and seconds (CGS). In the US, we also use feet, pounds, and seconds. All
other units can be expressed as combinations of these. For example, the newton is
a kilogram-meter per second^{2}. The joule is a kilogram meter^{2}
per second^{2}.

Is this how the universe is actually structured? Are there actually fundamental distances, masses, and times? Are these units actually different?

It's purely an accident of chemistry and biology that we see time and space as so different. The chemical processes that our brains use to function work in milleseconds, so a natural time unit to a person is on the order of a second. But, if we had thought processes based on nuclear reactions, a natural time unit for a person would be a billion billion times smaller.

Using the speed of light, c, as a conversion constant, we can measure distance in seconds or time in feet. One light second is about 186,000 miles. One foot of time is about one nanosecond. So, we agree to set c equal to 1, and we agree that we will use the same measure for time and space. We have not yet decided on a unit for length, we've just decided at this point that we can use the same unit for spacial distance and for time.

Distance is measured in meters. Velocity, distance per time, is meters per meter, so
velocity has no dimensions. In our system of measurement, a velocity of one is the speed of light.
The speed limit on most freeways is 65 miles per hour, which equals about c / 10,000,000.
If physicists were running the highways, apparently highway signs would
say "Speed limit 10^{-7}." That's it, no units.

Acceleration is velocity per second, so acceleration has dimensions of "per meter."

Einstein's special theory of relativity tells us that E = Mc^{2}.
But, we have just agreed that c is one, so energy and mass have the same
units, pounds or kilograms or or joules or horsepower-hours. We can choose
whatever unit we wish to represent energy and mass.

From quantum mechanics we learn that everything oscillates with a frequency
n = E / h, where h is Planck's constant. This is completely fundamental -
all energy oscillates, whether it's a photon or a bowling ball. It's just
an accident of history and human perception that we choose to measure energy
or mass with a different scale than time or distance. So, we'll agree to
measure energy and mass using units of frequency, meaning "per second"
or "per meter." Now, having made this agreement, Planck's constant is 1.
We still haven't chosen a basic unit, but we have reduced most everything
to this one unit. We could choose meters for our basic unit. We could measure
time in meters - a meter of time is about 3 nanoseconds. We could measure mass
in inverse meters or inverse seconds. A kilogram has a frequency of about 1.5*10^{33} hertz
(this number is just 1 / h), or a wavelength of about 2*10^{-42}
meters (this is h/c).

Mass has dimensions of "per meter," so F = Ma tells us that force has dimensions of "per meter^{2}."
Gauss' law of static electricity tells us that F = e^{2} / r^{2},
so e, the electric charge, is dimensionless. The fine structure constant
a = e^{2}/4p is also dimensionless.

Finally, we have one more fundamental unit in nature: G, Newton's gravitational
constant. The units of G can be deduced from Newton's equation of gravity,
F = GmM / r^{2}. Since the force has dimensions of "per meter^{2},"
and the 1/r^{2} term has dimensions of "per meter^{2},"
we see that GmM has no dimension. Therefore, since Mm has dimensions of
"per meter^{2}," G must have dimensions of "meter^{2}."
Now, our big leap: we'll set G to one, and therefore start using the same
dimensions that the universe naturally uses - we'll call them "natural
units," sometimes referred to as "God's units."

In cgs (centimeter-gram-seconds) units, G = 2/3*10^{-7} cm^{3}
/ g-s^{2}. Thus, we see that G / c^{3} = 1/4 * 10^{-38}
s/g. Now, we multiply by h = 6.6*10^{-27} erg-sec = 6.6*10^{-27}
g-cm^{2}/sec and we get 1.63 * 10^{-65 }cm^{2}.
Finally, the square root of this number is Ö(hG/c^{3})
= 4.04*10^{-33} cm. This will be our fundamental unit of
length and time, which we will call the Planck, abbreviated as P. We
can live with just one fundamental unit, but for convenience sake we will
define one additional unit. Our mass and energy unit will be h / (c * Planck)
= Ö(hc/G) =
5.45*10^{-5} g, which will call the Stone, abbreviated as E.
Note that the Stone is simply 1 / Planck. Wherever we use Stone, we could
write Planck^{-1}.

Now we're left with just a few factors of 2p and such in various places. For example, our Lagrangian is now in units of mass or inverse meters, as we expect for an energy term. The time integral of the Lagrangian, the action, is dimensionless, as we expect. That is, since dt has units of length, mass * dt has units of length / length. We'll use the action to find the phase of a particle as phase = exp( i 2p ò L dt t ). We could have scaled our units to eliminate this 2p, but we prefer to leave it in as an explicit reminder of the difference between time and radians.

Below is a conversion table and a list of constants. This is enough in most cases to work real problems in natural units and get answers in MKS.

Symbol | Name | Natural | cgs | MKS |
---|---|---|---|---|

m | Mass | 1 stone | 5.45*10^{-5} grams | 5.45*10^{-8} kilograms |

l | Length | 1 planck | 4.037*10^{-33} centimeters | 4.037*10^{-35} meters |

l | Length | 1 planck | 4.037*10^{-25} Ångstrom | 4.265*10^{-51} light-years |

t | Time | 1 planck | 1.346*10^{-43} seconds | 1.346*10^{-43} seconds |

E | Energy | 1 stone | 4.9*10^{16} ergs | 4.9*10^{9} joules |

E | Energy | 1 stone | 3.06*10^{22} MeV | 3.55*10^{32} °K |

V | Volume | 1 planck^{3} | 6.58*10^{-98} cm^{3} | 6.58*10^{-104} meters^{3} |

v | Velocity | 1 | 3*10^{8} cm/second | 3*10^{10} meters/second |

a | Acceleration | 1 stone | 2.23*10^{53} cm/second^{2} | 2.23*10^{51} meters/second^{2} |

F | Force | 1 stone^{2} | 4.9*10^{17} dynes | 4.9*10^{12} Newtons |

p | Pressure | 1 stone^{4} | 3.38*10^{79} dynes/cm^{2} | 3.38*10^{70} Newtons/meter^{2} |

d | Mass Density | 1 stone^{4} | 8.28*10^{92} gm/cm^{3} | 8.28*10^{83} kg/meter^{3} |

Symbol | Name | cgs | Natural |
---|---|---|---|

m | Mass | 1 gram | 1.835*10^{4} stone |

l | Length | 1 centimeter | 2.477*10^{32} planck |

l | Length | 1 Ångstrom | 4.037*10^{12} planck |

t | Time | 1 second | 7.43*10^{-42} planck |

E | Energy | 1 erg | 2.04*10^{-17} stone |

E | Energy | 1 MeV | 3.27*10^{-23} stone |

V | Volume | 1 cm^{3} | 1.52*10^{97} planck^{3} |

v | Velocity | 1 cm/second | 3.33*10^{-9} |

a | Acceleration | 1 cm/second^{2} | 4.45*10^{-54} stone |

F | Force | 1 dyne | 2.04*10^{-18} stone^{2} |

p | Pressure | 1 dyne/cm^{2} | 2.96*10^{-80} stone^{4} |

d | Mass Density | 1 gm/cm^{3} | 1.21*10^{-92}stone^{4} |

Symbol | Name | MKS | Natural |
---|---|---|---|

m | Mass | 1 kilogram | 1.835*10^{7} stone |

l | Length | 1 meter | 2.477*10^{34} planck |

l | Length | 1 Ångstrom | 4.037*10^{12} planck |

t | Time | 1 second | 7.43*10^{-42} planck |

E | Energy | 1 joule | 2.04*10^{-10} stone |

E | Energy | 1 MeV | 3.27*10^{-23} stone |

V | Volume | 1 m^{3} | 1.52*10^{103} planck^{3} |

v | Velocity | 1 m/second | 3.33*10^{-11} |

a | Acceleration | 1 m/second^{2} | 4.45*10^{-52} stone |

F | Force | 1 newton | 2.04*10^{-13} stone^{2} |

p | Pressure | 1 newton/m^{2} | 2.96*10^{-71} stone^{4} |

d | Mass Density | 1 kg/m^{3} | 1.21*10^{-83}stone^{4} |

Constant | MKS value | Natural value |
---|---|---|

G | 6.673*10^{-11} N m^{2} / kg^{2} | 1 stone^{2} |

e | 1.602*10^{-19} C | .303 |

c | 3*10^{10} cm / sec | 1 |

h | 6.62607544*10^{-34} J s | 1 |

hc | 1.9856*10^{-23} kg m^{3} / s^{2} | 1 |

Boltzman's constant k | 1.38*10^{-16} ergs / °K | 2.82*10^{-33} stone / °K |

m_{e} electron mass | 9.1096*10^{-31} kg = .511 MeV | 1.67*10^{-23} stone |

m_{p} proton mass | 1.6725*10^{-27} kg = 938.3 MeV | 3.066*10^{-20} stone |

m_{n} neutron mass | 1.6748*10^{-27} kg = 939.6 MeV | 3.07*10^{-20} stone |

Compton wavelength h / 2p m_{e} c | 3.86*10^{-13} m = 3.86*10^{-3} Å | 9.56*10^{21} planck |

Bohr radius h^{2} / 4p^{2} m_{e} e^{2} | 5.29*10^{-11} m = .529 Å | 1.31*10^{24} planck |

Rydberg constant ½ m_{e} c^{2} a^{2} | 13.6 eV | 4.44*10^{-28} stone |

mass of sun | 1.987*10^{30} kg | 3.646*10^{37} stone |

mass of earth | 5.97*10^{24} kg | 1.095*10^{32} stone |

mass of moon | 7.32*10^{22} kg | 1.343*10^{30} stone |

radius of earth | 6371 km | 1.578*10^{41} planck |

radius of sun | 6.96*10^{8} m | 1.724*10^{43} planck |

mean orbital radius of earth | 1 AU = 1.495*10^{11} m | 3.703*10^{45} planck |

year | 3.156*10^{7} s | 2.345*10^{50} planck |

g earth | 9.8 m / s^{2} = G M / r^{2} | 4.35*10^{-51} stone |

g sun | 273.4 m / s^{2} = G M / r^{2} | 1.23*10^{-49} stone |

Schwarzchild radius of earth | 8.85 mm = 2GM / c^{2} | 2.19*10^{32} planck = 2*M_{earth} |

Schwarzchild radius of sun | 2944 m = 2GM / c^{2} | 7.292*10^{37} planck |

Contents Appendix 1 Appendix 2 Appendix 3